Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Real Recognize Real": J-Till's Search for "The Answer"

Before we get wrapped up in March's Madness, let's stop and indulge in Points Off Turnovers' first Guest Post, courtesy of the great Johnathan Tillman. J-Till's currently finishing up at the University of Maryland and serves as the creative force behind the blog Fundamentally UnSound. (Readers, you've definitely seen J-Till's rhetoric disseminated across various comment sections, and some of you have even dialogued with Tillman and myself ad nausea. But I digress...) J-Till's been writing his yin/yang series parallel to my Mo' Better Hoops thesis, and I encourage you to check more of this brother's writing. We've got some big collaborations in store for the Basketball Universe, but as J-Till would say..."Why spoil the surprise?" The man LOVES the game of basketball almost as much as I do (just kidding, perhaps MORE) and is one of those rare Knicks fans that lives outside of the state of New York (Maryland, to be exact). Hey, it's no problem...the more the merrier. (Haters, we'll see you in 2010...)

Today, sit back and enjoy this superpower's musings on the evolution of one Allen Iverson, a man whose swagger and personality continue to amaze even the most delusional "functional" basketball theorist. Even as his mystique begins to fade, one of A.I.'s more simple decisions (aka "THE HAIRCUT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD") continues to reverberate within the basketball underground. How can our hero, the patron saint of professional basketball's Hip-Hop Movement, remain relevant as his mortal body begins to deteriorate? J-Till gives us his "answer" after the random picture...

Searching for the Answer

Allen Iverson is my all-time favorite player. Yes, he’s ahead of His Airness himself. It’s not because I feel he’s a better player, because I don’t. Rather, it’s because he is the only player I’ve seen that has an untraceable style—a style that even perplexed MJ in his first personal view of it. For both supporters and detractors, AI is the assimilation of hip-hop into the Pros, in the way that the Fab Five was the same on the collegiate level. Hip-hop is rebellious in nature, and therefore seen by most of the mainstream as a fad that’s taking a little too long to pass. Because of this, the genre is somewhat seen for all its negatives (I’m looking at you, Stanky Legg song-makers), while the true artistry (probably NSFW) and creativity gets overshadowed but still appreciated by true heads. Allen Iverson is the same way. He is a Hall-of-Famer, but there’s a reluctance to accept him as an all-time great. For a good portion of people, he is the pioneer of what’s wrong with the game—from his isolation-based play to his braids and tattoos. But to the true heads, he is the very definition of Basketball: pure individualism equipped with a katana in each hand in the form of the crossover. With a supreme ability to render bigger defenders obsolete, and a gigantic willpower, AI is pound-for-pound the best scorer of the basketball in history. He carried a franchise for a decade, and helped another for a year and a half. Now, he has found true hardship in the latter stages of his career, and is forced to come to a decision within himself. I’ll explain after the random picture…

In Detroit, the Allen Iverson Project has failed—there’s no denying it. It’s becoming more evident now that he’s out with a back injury, and the Pistons have won five of those six games he’s missed; and Rip is flourishing. Iverson’s spontaneity doesn’t mix with Detroit’s rigidity through motion and screens. In short, The Answer is attempting to be that to a team that already finishes their offensive questions. This is the opening that AI’s naysayers have been looking for. Iverson in Motown exploits the one flaw in his game: it won’t lead to winning.

I apologize if this seems to be going all over the place, but this is the manifestation of the turmoil inside me whenever I examine my favorite player. Yes, he is amazing. Yes, he is a one-of-one talent. But his vision of Basketball won’t allow him to win, which is something he badly wants to do. Tony Kornheiser once said that, “if you close your eyes and listen to Allen Iverson, you hear Michael Jordan.” To me, that means that you sense the same determination that MJ had that led to his teams’ consistent winning. AI has that same drive, but has yet to find the equation that produces true team success. It pains me to see my all-time favorite player to look out of place on the court—for him to now be a journeyman in search of a ring as someone else’s missing piece. For a long time, I had gone to outside sources to find the solution. I’ve now discovered that The Answer is his own Answer.

With any transcendent talent, there must be the correct pieces around him in order for the chemistry to be Championship right. For example, Lebron needs standstill shooters and big rebounders for when he bulldozes to the basket. Magic just needed people to run and catch the end of his wizardry. At the height of his powers, AI still didn’t manage to get those complimentary guys essential to every superstar. Even that Sixers team that went to the Finals wasn’t the exact formula for AI. It just so happened that Iverson, with the aid of some stingy team defense, was able to fully tap into his inner abilities and be other worldly—sort of like what Dwyane Wade is doing now. It was then that I discovered that there is no correct formula for AI. It doesn’t exist.

I’m not suggesting that AI is a bad teammate as a person; but it is tough to coexist with him in Basketball. His vision is twisted by the Napoleon Complex, and fused with an unrelenting want to prove doubters wrong. Think of him as Gilbert Arenas with no conscience as a pure scorer instead of just taking jumpers. The result: one pissed off little man that can drop 50 but alienate the rest of his team just enough that they lose. Again, it’s not on purpose—it’s the way he was made. It’s not that he refuses to be Andre Miller or any other “pass-first” point guard that his body type would suggest; but rather that internally, it does not compute.

This brings me back to that decision that Iverson must make. AI has reached that point in his career in where he has to refine his game if he wants that elusive ring. Look at his yin/yang basketball soulmate Ray Allen. Jesus Shuttlesworth was coming off his best years in Seattle, yet had the presence of mind to sacrifice his personal talents for the sake of Championship glory. Allen Iverson, the Ultimate Rebel, must now rebel against his own teachings if he wants to win. He’s still capable of averaging 20-plus, and even in Detroit where he doesn’t fit, his point guard numbers are better than anyone not named Paul, Williams, Nash, or Harris. His talent, though slightly diminished, is still tremendous. He must now learn to be more cohesive and conjoin with another player’s formula, instead of having others blend into him. He must be someone else’s Answer.


1 comment:

  1. I like this Tillman. Really like this. I was thinking about this watching the Pistons Vs. the Magic, wondering where AI really fit on this team. Good insight.